No Treasure Cruise. No Dig Through Time. No Birthing Pod. What does this mean for Modern?
Well to state the obvious Birthing Pod decks no longer exist. There may be some attempt to resurrect a Birthing Pod style strategy using Chord of Calling instead of Birthing Pod, but I doubt that will really catch on, so let's go ahead and call Pod decks dead. Now Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time being banned don't completely cripple a deck in the same way as Birthing Pod, but they do make many of the blue-based decks significantly worse. Blue/Red Delver is the deck that heavily relied on Treasure Cruise and that deck went from being one of the top decks in the format to a fringe strategy now. With probably the top two decks before the ban on the outside looking in, it is more of a matter of updating previous strategies for the new metagame.
If a deck previously had a bad matchup versus Pod or Delver it suddenly seems much more playable, and the decks that were top decks in the format and didn't lose anything to the bans are better because other decks got worse. So which top deck didn't play Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, or Birthing Pod? The deck that is always a player in Modern: Abzan. Abzan decks are traditionally great at trading cards on a one-for-one axis which is why card draw spells and Birthing Pod could be difficult for a Abzan deck to handle. Here is an updated Abzan list with Fate Reforged, played by Kevin Vanevery to a second place finish in the SCG IQ in DC:
At this point Siege Rhino should be old news in this deck, but there is another 4/5 that is newly printed, and that is Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Could this be the new best delve spell in Modern? Tasigur, the Golden Fang can break games wide open as a couple activations and all of a sudden it can be impossible for the opponent to recover. There is another creature that stands out and that is the full four copies of Voice of Resurgence. Just because Pod is gone doesn't mean that Voice of Resurgence isn't going to see play in Modern. In a field of Liliana of the Veils and Snapcaster Mages, Voice of Resurgence may be the perfect trump card. While not a traditional inclusion in Abzan, I'm interested to see if this could change moving forward.
There are four copies of Fulminator Mage in the board and the three Tectonic Edges are indications that Kevin is aware that a lot of land destruction is necessary just to have a chance against the decks worst matchup: Tron. RG Tron is in an interesting predicament because its best matchup in Birthing Pod is now nonexistent, but Abzan is also a very good matchup for Tron, so it is still a viable choice if the metagame is indeed heavy Abzan. Here is Brad Carpenter's list:
Nothing fancy here, the same powerful shell is still good. For those that don't have experience with the Abzan/Jund versus Tron matchup, you might think that it would be possible to use discard and removal to just stop the Tron deck from getting a Karn Liberated or Wurmcoil Engine going, but Tron has so many cards that cycle and search for the important cards that the only way to really fight the deck in the long game, is to deal with the Tron pieces. Cards like Fulminator Mage and Tectonic Edge are a necessity and should become a staple in all these Black/Green decks.
Tron's worst enemy is Blood Moon, but currently which major archetype consistently plays Blood Moon? Twin sometimes does, but Blue/Red Delver pretty much always had Blood Moon in the sideboard. In general playing Tron is a metagame call; because the deck isn't very interactive it feasts on decks that are fighting fair with creatures, but traditionally has issues with combo and land destruction, in other words it could be a high risk-high reward deck choice. Even matchups like Affinity and Twin which are admittedly tough do get significantly better after board, so don't give up after losing game one!
Let's continue talking about decks that didn't lose cards from the bannings. This is an archetype that even after having a lot of success may still be under the radar, but it is a deck worth being aware of even if you don't play it. I'm talking about Amulet of Vigor Combo. This is one of the best fast combo decks in the format right now. After taking second place at GP Omaha the deck hasn't let up, here is a list oky91 recently 4-0'd a Magic Online Daily with:
This is another deck that is better the less Blood Moons are running around. It is easy to forget that besides the Primeval Titan plan, this deck also runs Hive Mind, and can win that way as well. While it may look like there aren't that many Pacts to go along with the Hive Minds there are three copies of Tolaria West which can tutor for either Pact. This also means that in a deck with four Summoner's Pact and four Primeval Titan you can pretty much always find one, and paying for the Pact later isn't a big deal. This is a combo deck that can be both tough to play with and against, so don't be too quick to dismiss it.
Moving forward let's talk about some archetypes that are still strong players despite potentially losing Dig Through Time or Treasure Cruise. A great example of this is Burn. Burn had typically been splashing blue for two to four copies of Treasure Cruise, but not playing Treasure Cruise won't hurt the deck too much, it just means you need to find a couple more cards to maindeck. Burn is another deck that typically has a pretty good matchup against Abzan, and in fact doesn't have too many bad matchups. Here is the list Paul Cheon has been advocating:
Grim Lavamancer isn't usually found in the maindeck here but it's not unreasonable, as the card pretty much demands a removal spell or it will end the game very easily in conjunction with burn spells. Part of the reason Grim Lavamancer wasn't being played previously is that the need to fill up the graveyard for Treasure Cruise doesn't exactly work well alongside Grim Lavamancer activations. The creature suite is nice, and three Eidolon of the Great Revel seems like the right number as four felt like a little much. Sometimes they are great but oftentimes they hurt too much and there is no time to deploy the second one.
Eidolon of the Great Revel is better alongside Lightning Helix though, and Cheon has added a full four copies of that card. Lightning Helix normally wasn't played in previous iterations of the deck so people may have forgotten about it, but there are matchups where the Burn deck does care quite a bit about those three points of lifegain. Altogether Burn is still a reasonable deck choice and isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Though Burn doesn't have too many bad matchups, when it does have one it can be almost impossible to win. The worst matchup that comes to mind is Bogles. This is a deck that is happy not to have Pod decks running around anymore though typically cards like Abrupt Decay and Liliana of the Veil can be big issues. However I have seen this deck beat Abzan on more than one occasion. In fact David Heilker won the SCG IQ this past weekend in DC with Bogles and beat an Abzan deck in the finals. Here is the list:
I am somewhat surprised by the maindeck Suppression Fields with Pod being gone, but it is very good against Twin as well if you are expecting a lot of that deck. Typically the Bogles deck has a pretty cohesive maindeck that is capable of making a large creature and winning extremely quickly, even as fast as turn three in some cases. After board there are a host of different hate cards that can be boarded in without hurting the deck too much, which is a luxury many combo deck don't have. The issue with Bogles has always been that there are games the deck loses to itself by, say, not drawing a hexproof creature, but this seems to be a strong choice right now.
So I just mentioned Twin and actually the bannings may cause this deck to be more popular. Dig Through Time was a good card in the deck but has been a successful player in Modern long before the existence of Dig Through Time. Blue/Red Twin will need to add more combo pieces or there is always the option to go Jeskai or Temur to add more value cards. Here is a look at a Temur Twin list played by Allen Norman this past weekend:
The deck looks very similar to what it looked like going into the last Modern Pro Tour when Patrick Dickmann broke onto the scene with it. Now Twin no longer needs to worry about cards like Linvala, Keeper of Silence very much, as it was mostly just Pod playing that card. Spellskite also doesn't seem to be seeing a ton of play which may play into why Allen doesn't feel the need to play Flame Slash, as the deck wants to be playing at instant speed if it can. It's hard to say which version of Twin will be most popular at the Pro Tour, but the less hate around, the better Twin is in the metagame.
It is worth mentioning one more staple strategy which is pretty much always going to be a contender in Modern, and this deck certainly isn't complaining about the bannings, and that is Affinity. In my experience during a big Modern tournament expect to play against Affinity once or twice, and don't forget about the hate cards in the board. Affinity seems to have good matchups against some of the top decks, and it will be interesting to see how many Lingering Souls become the standard in Abzan as that will affect how good that matchup. Here is a list:
This deck isn't anything new. I can't help but wondering though how cards that are relatively new like Ghostfire Blade and Ensoul Artifact fit into the deck. Ensoul Artifact had been picking up play in Affinity but if Dismember becomes a big removal spell I expect it to start seeing less play. Affinity is a deck I would recommend if it is something you are already experienced with, and for players not playing the deck I don't think this is the time to let up on the sideboard hate.
So these are just some of the decks that got better as a result of the bannings. I expect archetypes like UWR Control, various midrange creature decks, and graveyard decks to also gain popularity. So what decks will lose popularity? A deck like RG Through the Breach which played maindeck Chalice of the Void was designed to beat Pod and UR Delver, but with those decks gone from the metagame it will likely lose favor. Another deck that I expect will be played less is Scapeshift though it is still a reasonable deck choice. Pod was one of the best matchups and Dig Through Time is now gone. For other decks it may just be a matter of adjusting your decklist. For example a deck like Merfolk had been running maindeck Tidebinder Mages, but that would need to change moving forward. While old decks are still good I'm hoping that there will be some new archetypes that will emerge at the Pro Tour.
Thanks for reading,